Is Diversity Working in Inner Cities?

Life in inner cities has long been associated with socio-economic struggles, often affecting minorities living there. In fact, the term ‘inner city’ is associated with poor blacks and Hispanics, with many of them being low-income earners.

The population in inner cities is often dense, and because many inner city families subsist on meager incomes, they also find difficulty in accessing education. Hence, because of low income and lack of education, inner cities are also often characterized by a high incidence of crimes.

The poor socio-economic conditions experienced by minorities in inner cities is among the country’s big issues, especially poverty.

According to this ICIC article (Initiative for a Competitive Inner City), poverty and unemployment are concentrated in inner cities, where, based on statistics (as of 2014), 3 in 10 people lived in poverty, compared with 1 in 10 people living in poverty in the suburbs:

Despite the fact that there are a greater number of people living in poverty in America’s suburbs, poverty and unemployment remain overwhelmingly concentrated in inner cities….,” explains Kim Zeuli, Senior Vice President and Director of Research and Advisory at ICIC.

An article last year by the New York Times said the real problem with the country’s inner cities is this:

On one hand, a vicious tangle of concentrated poverty, disconnected youth and a culture of violence among a small but destructive minority in the inner cities; and, on the other hand, of out-of-control law-enforcement practices abetted by a police culture that prioritizes racial profiling and violent constraint.

Thus, the question of diversity arises: Is diversity working in inner cities?

This article attempts to look into the inner cities in the states of Wisconsin and Michigan, specifically, Milwaukee and Detroit. What are the challenges they face and how do they cope with their respective issues?

Diversity in the Inner Cities of Wisconsin

Wisconsin can rightfully claim to be a “land of immigrants” — with many of its early settlers coming from different parts of Europe. As of 2010, the racial composition of Wisconsin was mostly White – 86.2%: non-Hispanic White (83.3%); White Hispanic (2.9%).

The 2nd racial/ethnic group was Black or African American (6.3%), and the rest of its population represented other minorities: Native Americans and Alaska Natives (1.0%); Asian Americans (2.3%); Multiracial Americans (1.8%) and others at 2.4%. Its population totaled 5.691 million.

Wisconsin also plays an important role in presidential elections. It has been noted that in recent decades, Wisconsin tends to side with the Democratic Party and to have voted for Democratic candidates in each of the last seven presidential elections. See here:

Also, its voter base is a representation of the country’s population. It is a state that has seen engaged citizens and political reform […] Based on presidential primaries past, the winner of Wisconsin’s Democratic primary might just give us an important look into the country’s future. – See here: 

That Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the recent Wisconsin presidential primary sent one Huffington Post article to analyze the Wisconsin primary results and predict a Sanders presidency: Bernie Sanders will be the official Democratic front-runner. Wisconsin continued the momentum at a critical point and helped elect President Bernie Sanders.


Milwaukee is the 31st most populous city in the US (Wikipedia), and according to the US Census Bureau, its population in 2014 = 599,642; 2010 = 594,833. These figures show a drop from 628,137 in July 1990.

A significant part of its demographics, based on the April 2010 data, showed: 44.8% = White alone; 40.0% = Black or African American; 17.3% = Hispanic or Latino; 37.0% = White (not Hispanic or Latino); 3.5% = Asian.

A close look at Milwaukee’s racial composition through the years shows a remarkable shift; that is, the number of Whites (non-Hispanic) has declined, and the number of Black or African Americans, as well as Hispanics or Latinos, and Asians, has gone up.

Racial composition
White (Non-Hispanic)71.4%60.8%45.5%37.0%
Black or African American22.9%30.2%36.9%40.0%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race)4.2%6.3%12.0%17.3%

This could be part of what the Census Bureau projected last year that whites are going to be outnumbered by non-whites by 2044. In five years, it said, the minority would be white children.

Milwaukee has a relatively young population with a median age of 31 years. The breakdown of the different age group shows 28.6% below 18 years old; 12.2% from 18 to 24; 30.2% from 25 to 44; 18.1% from 45 to 64; and 10.9%, 65 years and older.

These figures imply that the young population is mostly of working age (18 years old -64 years)  Males outnumber females in Milwaukee: for every 100 females there are 91.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 87.2 males.

Education in Milwaukee

There is a high rate of education in Milwaukee. 81.8% of people 25 years up were high school graduates or higher, and between 2010-2014, 22.8% of people 25 years and older had a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

However, according to a study report, these figures are still much lower than those in the metro area. K-12 schools are still hyper-segregated, with 100% of African American schoolchildren attending hyper-segregated schools.

Employment in Milwaukee

Between 2010-2014, the percentage of the total population aged 16 years and above in the civilian workforce was 65.1% , and the percentage of its female population 16 years and above working in the civilian field was 62.7% . The median household income, between 2010-2014, was $35,489 (2014 dollar rate).

As in any big city, more so in inner cities, social and economic problems are part and parcel of life. Milwaukee is no exception. Commute to work for employees living in Milwaukee takes a longer time – See again the study report above.

Crime in Milwaukee

A report by the Law Street Media last year (2015) revealed Milwaukee as as the #7 Most Dangerous City with a violent crime rate of 1,364 violent crimes per 100,000 people, jumping from its #10 position in 2014. The city has been ranked as one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the U.S., and it saw a spike in crime – last year – with 124 killed as of October 22, 2015. (Wikipedia)

Milwaukee’s Crime Stats in 2015 (according to the above report): Violent Crime Rate: 1,364/100,000 people; Murder Rate: 17 per 100,000 people.

In 2015 too, the city had a population of 600,805 with a 1:323 officer to population ratio; Median Household Income: $35,823; Pop. Below Poverty Line: 28.3%

To make matters worse, poverty is high among Blacks. A special report by Journal Sentinel says there is marked income segregation in the city:

“…beneath that level of relative prosperity lie entrenched poverty in much of Milwaukee and wide gaps in economic well-being between city and suburbs, black and white. In almost no large metropolitan area is there a greater difference in black and white income.”  

The said report likewise enumerates the problems faced by the city’s poor: [they] lack reliable transportation to tap job opportunities far from the central city. In addition, the steep contrast in income and race in Milwaukee impacts its economic health, as its appeal to investors is diminished, according to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Is Diversity Working in Milwaukee?

With the current problems it faces, Milwaukee is still plagued by lack of equal opportunity for its minorities, as well as poverty, segregation in schools, and income disparity, among other issues.

Its history says corruption used to be big time in Milwaukee, and as in any place that transforms into a big city, big problems came along. But in 1910, corruption ended:

When Milwaukee became the only major city in America to turn its government over to Socialists.[…] In the years since World War II, Milwaukee has experienced the familiar juggernaut of urban problems, including racial unrest, poverty and blight, and the loss of family-supporting factory jobs. But there have also been some resoundingly positive developments: world-class festivals, a downtown renaissance, and the rise of a truly global diversity…

Perhaps, even then, diversity is at work at Milwaukee, with the initiatives of its political and community leaders, but at a pace not enough for real change to happen or be felt.

But there are initiatives to improve the lives of the people, and success stories as well. Among the city’s initiatives is the “Milwaukee Experiment” of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. This is an effort to reform how prosecutors handle drug crimes in Milwaukee. And earlier this year, Mayor Barrett’s initiative to have two analysts from the Milwaukee Police Department dedicated to tracking repeat offenders as they wind their way through the juvenile justice system.

Diversity in the Inner Cities of Michigan

Michigan is another Democratic-leaning state, as Republicans haven’t won since 1988. With Bernie Sanders having won the presidential primary there — over Clinton — and even garnering more votes than Trump got, Michigan continues to be a Democratic bulwark. See also:

Michigan’s diverse population in July 2010 was 9.8776 million (US Census). Its racial composition closely resembles that of Wisconsin: Largely white 78.9% — 76.6% comprised of Non-Hispanic whites and 2.3% White Hispanics – with many of European descent. The next largest group is comprised of Black or African American (14.2%), and the rest of the state population consists of other minorities. 0 .1% = Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders; 0.6% = Native Americans and Alaska Native; 2.4% = Asian. See here:

Like Wisconsin, its voter base is representative of the country’s demographics. And just like the Badger State, Michigan has its sore spot, Detroit. 


The city is one of the most populous cities in the country, yet its population has considerably declined from 1,850,000 in 1950 to 701,000 in 2013, due to a confluence of factors: industrial restructuring and loss of jobs in the auto industry. Not only its population has declined, but its general condition as well. See a detailed description of the shrinking of Detroit here.

Poverty and its concomitant problems have resulted from the loss of industrial and working-class jobs in the city, the inner part of which is mostly populated by blacks.

Many whites moved to the suburbs. Black or African Americans comprised 82.7% of Detroit’s population in 2010 — Whites at 10% and Hispanic or Latino, 6%.

The famous auto industry of Detroit, which flourished and brought wealth in the 1920s, later gave way to decentralization and was a major factor in the city’s decline. “Detroit rose and fell with the automobile industry.” The decline of the auto industry caused a huge negative impact on the city’s economy, giving rise to other social problems, such as crime, and the continuing decrease in its population.

As with Milwaukee, Detroit is ranked as one of the 10 most dangerous cities to live in the U.S. In fact, in 2014 and 2015, it ranked as #1 in the list released by the FBI. Detroit once again tops the list of Most Dangerous Cities with a violent crime rate of 2,072 per 100,000; however, that number reflects a nearly 2.5 percent decrease from the previous year.

Despite this grim picture of Detroit, all is not lost, for concerted efforts among its leaders, its people and business organizations are being mobilized. Read more about some of these efforts here and here.

What Can Be Done: How to make Diversity Working in Inner Cities

As the above-mentioned NY Times article said, in tackling the present crisis, it is thus a clear mistake to focus only on police brutality, and it is fatuous to attribute it all to white racism. Some authorities/experts have suggested the following as means to help ease the socio-economic problems in inner cities:

Providing Work Skills Training

From the other article mentioned (by the ICIC), workforce training programs are a good way to resolve inner cities’ problem on unemployment. Workforce training programs are one such example. Inner cities have a higher rate of unemployment (14%) than the national average (9%). By channeling workforce development funds into programs that serve inner city residents, their impact is magnified.[…]Workforce development programs that target unemployed inner city residents can serve a large number of low-income residents all at once, thereby preparing them for meaningful employment at urban businesses ….

Promoting Stronger Family Units

Another suggestion comes from this article that discussed about the needs of Milwaukee’s inner city: “Good fathers and intact families are key to preventing such chaos. Good fathers set boundaries, impose discipline, defend the home, show affection and set positive examples for their children to follow, leading impressionable children away from the abyss.”

According to its author, Shannon Whitworth, a veteran attorney, a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in Milwaukee, and a resident of Cedarburg, however, the situation in Wisconsin based on statistics – Every year close to 75% of all black infants are born out of wedlock into single-parent homes. According to a study of the Milwaukee area, the percentage exceeds 85%. In Janesville: 91%!

And according to statistics as well, the author continues: one of the greatest indicators of a child’s economic success as an adult is whether he or she was raised in a home where the familial unit was intact and both parents had made a commitment to one another that family came first.

Promoting Stronger Marriage

This corroborates what the Journal Sentinel report says that marriage is the bedrock of good things in society: “Marriage has been linked statistically to many good things – better physical and mental health, less crime, higher income, much less childhood poverty.”

Promoting Education

Parents and elders in any culture believe that education is one of the best legacies they can leave their children. For many, education means wealth, not only in terms of knowledge, but in being the gateway to future success and stability in life. This article shows how schools can do much to help disadvantaged groups get equal opportunity to education and make the most of it.

Challenge to Policy Makers in Making Diversity Work in Inner Cities

No policy can ever eradicate these social ills, which are hard facts of life. But it doesn’t warrant letting people in dire situations be out in the cold.

To enable diversity working in inner cities, policies should be crafted such that people in poverty, those who come from broken homes or born out of wedlock, can have easy access to basic needs, such as food, shelter, education, healthcare, transportation and employment.

It should also mean having a voice. Diversity working means inclusion of everyone regardless of their personal circumstances, race and ethnicity. Strong leadership and political will are also needed to ensure policies made will truly benefit those living in the inner cities —  in action, not just in words.